Thursday, July 31, 2014

Golden Palm Weaver

The golden palm weaver is found along the coast and in lowlands to 4,000 feet elevation from southern Somalia, to eastern Kenya (west to the Samburu/Buffalo Springs area) and northeastern Tanzania. It has a gold/orange head, yellow/olive upperparts, a yellow breast and a black bill. 
Golden palm weaver in Buffalo Springs NR. Photo by Mark Edwards.
Photo by Mark Edwards. 
It often weaves a nest on a palm stem, probably where its name comes from. We encountered this beautiful bird at the western edge of its range, in Buffalo Springs National Reserve in northern Kenya. We were crossing a small stream and it was flitting in and about the grass and bushes near the stream. Mark Edwards called attention to our driver to stop and we watched it for five or ten minutes. 
Good view of olive/yellow upperparts.
It is small enough that it was often partially hidden by the grass.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Caribou Rib Eye Steak - Sous Vide

Years ago when I was in charge of a Youth Conference trek in Oak Glen I had a friend donate some caribou meat he had obtained on a hunting trip in Canada. He grilled the caribou on a large bbq and hundreds of youth had an opportunity to try it, although many were too squeamish to try it. Unfortunately, I was so busy that day I did not really have an opportunity to be involved in the preparation or cooking and I have been wanting to try caribou again ever since.  
Caribou. Picture from Wikipedia.
Recently I got another chance. I obtained a beautiful 1.38 pound caribou rib eye steak from Anshu Pathak at Exotic Meat Market. Anshu has been the source of much of the game meat I've eaten over the years and this was one of the more beautiful game meat cuts I've had. 
Caribou rib eye steak. 
The other side.
The method for the cooking of game meat is critical because game meat tends to be very lean and over-cooking it results in dry, stringy and extremely tough meat. Even meat cooked rare can be very tough. A great solution is the use of a sous vide cooker. The benefit of the sous vide is you can cook a piece of meat to an exact temperature, cook it over a long period of time to soften it up, season it before-hand so that the seasoning is diffused into the meat during the cooking process, and all of that without losing any moisture. Judy gave me a sous vide cooker for my birthday and I've been looking for opportunities to use it. 

When I thought of caribou and the wild north, blackberries came to mind. I looked up some recipes involving venison and blackberries and set out to try my own concoction. I got a six ounce carton of blackberries and used about three ounces for the base of my marinade. I crushed them up into a liquid using a large fork. Then I added one tablespoon of Dijon mustard, one de-seeded and diced jalapeno pepper, a half teaspoon of crushed garlic, a quarter teaspoon of sage, a half teaspoon of ground pepper, a teaspoon of sea salt and a quarter cup of Kedem pure grape juice. 
Seeded and diced jalapeno
I cut the caribou steak into two sections and put each section into a plastic bag with half of the marinade and vacuum sealed them. I then cooked the caribou at 131 degrees F (55 degrees C) for five hours. 
One-half of the steak sealed in a vacuum packed pouch with the marinade.
The pouch after it has cooked for five hours. 
Contents of the pouch, including marinade.
After removing the cooked meat from the plastic pouches, I seared the steak in a frying pan with butter and oil to give it a little carmelization. The result was a perfectly cooked piece of meat - a nicely seared outside and very tender, lean and juicy pink rare inside. The jalapeno added a barely noticeable hint of heat and the berries a bit of sweetness which complemented the savory flavor. The only negative to the preparation was the blackberry seeds that got stuck between my teeth. 
Perfectly cooked rare caribou rib eye.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rufous-Tailed Weaver

The rufous-tailed weaver was originally found only in Tanzania but it now found regularly in Kenya. We encountered it when we took a bathroom break at a small airstrip in Serengeti National Park. There were some trees in the parking lot just filled with their nests. 
Grass nests of the rufous-tailed weaver in Serengeti NP.
It was originally classified as a weaver, but is now placed in the sparrow family, but retains its name. It has brown upper parts with pale edging, giving it a distinctive mottled look. 
Rufous-tailed weaver
The underparts have the same mottled effect, but are paler. 
Rufous-tailed weaver
It has chestnut or rufous colored tail, which gives it its name, pale blue eyes and an orange bill. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vervet Monkey

The vervet monkey has a black face fringed by white cheeks and brow. 
Vervet monkey near Sarova Shaba Lodge. Photo by John Mirau.
Also near the Sarova Shaba Lodge. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
The coat color varies geographically, from silver/gray to yellow, reddish or olive/green, with white to yellow/white underparts. The ears, hands and feet are usually black and adult males have a pale blue scrotum. 

This vervet monkey, near the Sarova Shaba Lodge, shows the blue scrotum and black feet and hands. 
It has a long tail that is held almost horizontal when walking, with the tip pointing down. There are five subspecies, found in the eastern portion of Africa from Ethiopia and Somalia down to South Africa, and I can't find enough information to try and sort out if we were just seeing one or more of the subspecies. 
In the Lerai Forest in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
It is the common monkey of the savanna and goes in troops between 8 and 140 animals. We first encountered this monkey at the Sarova Shaba Lodge where it was roaming the grounds in great quantities. When we first arrived I followed one around for about 15 minutes while it walked under and on top of vehicles and in and out of the bushes. 
I followed this vervet monkey around the Sarova Shaba grounds.
We also saw isolated individuals in various other places, like Serengeti National Park. 
In Serengeti NP. Photo by Michal Lewin.
Photo by Steven Shuel.
High in a tree in Serengeti NP. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
In Serengeti NP.
It looks like it would make a very cute pet: about the right size, very curious, very cute. This last comment is probably anachronistic now - it is probably illegal to have them as pets in California and most places in the U.S. I do think back to my time as a youth when my uncle had a pet spider monkey and squirrel monkey and when exotic pets were still available. I'd never heard of them before our trip to Africa. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mount Kenya Sykes' Monkey

Wikipedia lists Sykes' monkey as a species with 12 subspecies, including the Mount Kenya Syke's monkey. The National Audobon Society Field Guide to African Wildlife lists the various Sykes' monkeys as some of the 20 to 25 subspecies of the blue monkey. In either case, the Mount Kenya Sykes' monkey found on Mount Kenya and in the Aberdare Mountains (west of Mount Kenya with a peak over 13,000 feet in elevation) has some distinctive features, including a broad white collar with black shoulders and a dark red back and long ear tufts. 
Mount Kenya Sykes' Monkey with infant on its side. Photo by Steven Shuel.
Same monkey from a different angle. The infants eye peers out from the left. The reddish back and white ear tufts are also visible. I believe this is one of Judy's photos.
This was the monkey that we encountered at the Serena Mountain Lodge in Mount Kenya NR. We found it climbing on the side of the building, looking in the windows while we were eating breakfast and looking for open patio doors (posts on Trip Advisor warn to keep the patio doors closed or monkeys will enter). 
Good view of red back. Looking for access to rooms at the Mountain Lodge. Photo by Mark Edwards.

This high elevation monkey, the Mountain Lodge is at 7,200 feet, has a thicker coat than its lower elevation cousins.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Marabou Stork

The marabou stork is an ungainly, ugly bird sometimes aptly known as the "undertaker bird" because of its cloak-like wings and back, and skinny white legs. 
Marabou stork in Serengeti NP.
The fact that it is often found following vultures and feeding on carrion further enhances that image.  
Marabou stork at a kill site with two Ruppell's vultures in Serengeti NP. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
It has a naked red head and pink neck sparsely covered in down, glossy green/black/slaty back and wings, white underparts, a pink gular sac (featherless skin that joins the bill to the neck), a neck ruff and black legs, white with excrement. 
On tree in Nairobi. Gular sac is particularly noticeable. Photo by John Mirau.
In Nairobi.
In Nairobi
It can get up to five feet high and 20 pounds and has one of the largest wingspans of any bird, just a little short of the Andean condor and some of the large albatrosses. 
In Nairobi. Photo by Esmee Tooke
Nairobi. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
It is found in much of sub-Saharan Africa, except portions of southeast and southern Africa, areas that are primarily rain forests and deserts. 
In Nakuru NP near a cape buffalo.
In Shaba NR along the banks of the Ewaso Ng'iro River.
The naked head and neck are adaptations to its scavenging on carrion, garbage and feces. In many areas they have become dependent on human garbage and will be found near garbage dumps and urban areas. There is a sizable population in Nairobi, nesting in the tree tops on the main streets and outside our hotel windows.  
Outside hotel window in Nairobi. Photo by Esmee Tooke.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Blacksmith Plover

The blacksmith plover, also known as the blacksmith lapwing, is an African bird found from central Kenya, and central Tanzania, on the east side, and central Angola on the west side, down to Capetown. It is all black, white and gray. 
Blacksmith plover in Ngorongoro Crater. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
It has a white crown, hind-neck and belly and is white in the area under its wings. 
A sacred ibis with two blacksmith plovers behind it. Photo by Esmee Tooke.
It has a black bill, legs, nape, face, fore-neck, chest, back, tip of the tail and portion of the wings and gray on a large portion of its wings. 

It also has red eyes. The name comes from its alarm call, which is a metallic sounding "tink, tink, tink," like a blacksmith's hammer striking an anvil. They are found in areas of wetlands. I got pictures of them in Ngorongoro Crater and in the Serengeti and we may have seen them elsewhere as well. Unfortunately, my pictures are not of great quality.  

Thursday, July 24, 2014

African Bush Elephant

Until looking up African elephant for this post, I did not realize that there are two separate species of African elephant: the bush elephant and the forest elephant. Of course, until recently, they were considered subspecies of one species. It was recent DNA tests that confirmed they are genetically diverse and diverged from each other millions of years ago. The bush elephant is much larger. Males stand 10 to 13 feet tall and weigh 10,360 to 13,330 pounds. 
Photo by Michael Lewin.
Photo by Judy.
Females are 7 to 9 feet tall and weigh 4,762 to 7,125 pounds. They are found most commonly in the reserves of Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. They are rare outside of reserves because of poaching for tusks. The forest elephant male rarely exceeds 8 feet tall and 4,000 to 7,000 pounds.  It is found in small pockets from Mauritania to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that there are less than 100,000 forest elephants alive in the wild and that about half of them are in Gabon. Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo also have significant populations. There is concern that they may become extinct within ten years. 
I believe this elephant was in the Serengeti. She has a hole in her ear which you can see evidenced in the shadow right behind it. Photo by Michael Lewin. Aside from Buffalo Springs, we saw a large number of elephants at Mt. Kenya, but it was at night and we were not able to get good pictures of them. We only saw elephants in ones or twos in other spots such as Serengeti, Masai Mara and Ngorongoro.
This herd was part of a very large grouping in Buffalo Springs NR. I believe we counted 70 or 80, so there must have been more than 100 in the area. 
In Buffalo Springs.
Buffalo Springs.
Buffalo Springs. It is hard to believe that desolate country can support this many elephants.We not only saw them in this very large herd, but saw a number of solitary individuals across the river.
Both male and female African elephants have tusks. In Asian elephants, only the male has tusks. The tusks are usually from 5 to 8 feet long and 50 to 100 pounds. The trunk has two opposing lips, unlike the Asian elephant which ends in a single lip. 
This was the first elephant we saw in Buffalo Springs. I saw it down in a ravine. This was another "ahaa" moment.  
Elephants in Shaba NR.
The basic elephant social unit is a herd of about ten female elephants and their calves, led by a matriarch, the biggest and oldest female. If groups grow larger, they tend to split into multiple family units and then stay in the vicinity and associate.
We also saw a large number of elephants at night at Mt. Kenya NR. 
Males leave the herd at puberty, about 12 years old and then either wander alone or associate with other males. At about 25, they begin to compete for mating opportunities. The bigger bulls over age 35 tend to monopolize the mating. Females begin to reproduce around 10 to 12. They are in estrus 2 to 7 days and have a gestation of 22 months. They give birth about every 3 to 6 years. A male will only stay with a female and her herd for a few weeks before moving on and looking for more females in estrus. 
This female in Buffalo Springs emerged from some trees and soon after had a large bull running after her. They were going at a pretty good clip. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
The bull caught up to the female and tailed her for awhile. It became pretty obvious she was in estrus and this big guy was feeling frisky.
It looked like a house climbing on top of a house. This was all taking place about 30 yards from our Land Cruiser. 
We definitely got an eyeful. Our driver indicated we were lucky to see this. It is not something that is regularly seen.
They can eat up to 1,000 pounds of vegetation a day. I can't imagine the impact that this huge grouping of elephants in Buffalo Springs, 70 to 100 or more, is having on the spare vegetation of that region. 
Photo by Mark Edwards
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Esmee Tooke
Photo by John Mirau